Thursday 4 August 2011

Movie Review: Coming To America (1988)

A comedy about finding true love, Coming To America fits a familiar story into a shiny comedy package and provides decent laughs, mainly thanks to the comic talents of Eddie Murphy.

A rich man hiding under the rags of poverty to find a woman who would love him without his wealth is a love fable as old as they come. Coming To America distracts from the obvious by injecting its central theme with another ancient plot device, the worlds-apart culture clash. Prince Akeem (Murphy) is the next-in-line to the throne of Zamunda, a fictional African country. Raised in lush luxury at the secluded royal palace, and never having to do anything for himself, Akeem is turning 21 and his parents King Joffe (James Earl Jones) and Queen Aeoleon (Madge Sinclair) have arranged a bride for him to marry.

Unhappy at being pampered throughout his life, Akeem finds the rebel within, refuses to adhere to his parents' wishes, and flies off to America with his personal aid Semmi (Arsenio Hall) to seek the true love of his life. Since they are looking for a future queen, they naturally choose Queens, New York as the place to search for the perfect bride. They rent a dump of an apartment, pretend to be poor, and take jobs as floor cleaners at McDowell's, a fast-food joint operated by Cleo McDowell (John Amos). Cleo's smart and compassionate daughter Lisa (Shari Headley) attracts Akeem's attention and becomes the target of his wooing efforts. Akeem needs to overcome competition from Lisa's egotistical boyfriend Darryl (Eriq La Salle); whining from a home-sick Semmi; and a clumsily desperate attempt at intervention by King Joffe and Queen Aeoleon, before he can win himself a new future queen.

Eddie Murphy wrote the story, and he keeps the laughs coming with welcome good timing and some rather tiresome over-exuberance. He receives good support from Jones, whose booming voice and haughty personality are perfectly suited to the role of a domineering king. In one of his more memorable big-screen roles, Arsenio Hall is also excellent in the role of the side-kick who is too quick to harken for the comforts of home and even quicker to pretend to be Prince when it suits him.

Coming To America does suffer from Murphy always looking more comfortable in New York than the flagrantly artificial dream world of Zamunda, and once Akeem and Semmi settle into New York and the pursuit of Lisa begins, the plot is fixed onto the sturdy rails of predictability all the way through to the sugary ending. Director John Landis has the easy task of keeping his cameras pointing in the right direction, and allowing his star to do his thing.

Coming To America is a vehicle for Murphy at his peak: it lacks the freshness of unpredictability or any sort of edge, but nevertheless works as a showcase for his sterling talent.

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